Lakers can oust Warriors, Heat can finish Knicks in Game 5s

·5 min read

NEW YORK (AP) — LeBron James, Anthony Davis and the Los Angeles Lakers beat the Miami Heat three years ago in the most unusual NBA Finals ever, played neither during the normal season nor in their home arenas.

Those teams might be moving toward something else the league has never seen.

Both have 3-1 leads and can advance to their conference finals Wednesday night, which would leave them one round away from a potential unprecedented championship matchup pitting a No. 7 vs. a No. 8 seed.

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The Lakers can get to the Western Conference finals by ending the championship reign of the Golden State Warriors in Game 5 in San Francisco, where they were routed in Game 2 before clamping down the last two games.

“I think we’ll be ready,” James said. “One thing about when you play Golden State, you don’t have an opportunity to relax. You just don’t. So I’m not worried about us going in there comfortable. You just can’t do it versus Golden State, it’s not even — it’s not possible.”

The Heat can finish off the Knicks in New York and get to the conference finals for the third time in four years, this time as the lowest-seeded team in the field.

Defend like these teams do, and it doesn't matter the number in front of your name.

The Lakers and Heat both seized control of their series by winning two straight at home. After uneven regular seasons that forced them to come through the play-in round, they have emerged as the dominant teams in the postseason, just as they were in the late summer and fall of 2020 at the NBA's restart at Walt Disney World amid the COVID-10 pandemic.

Now they need one more strong effort in what's often considered the toughest game of the series to win.

“Your competitive nature heightens in those closeout games,” Heat veteran Kyle Lowry said. “I’ve been in a lot, and I’ve been on both ends, so I’ve been in these situations before and I know how hard they are. But it’s all about focusing on the game plan and what you have to do, right? It’s going to be so crazy, ups and downs, but if you just focus on the game plan and what you know to do and bank on your principles and have your teammates’ backs, anything can happen.”

Los Angeles limited Golden State to 17 points in the fourth quarter to pull out a 104-101 victory on Monday. The Lakers are 17-5 since March 19 and now need only to avoid their first three-game losing streak in three months to book their spot opposite Denver or Phoenix in the West finals.

Do so and they would match the 1987 Seattle SuperSonics for the lowest-seeded team to reach the West finals. A No. 7 seed never has played in the NBA Finals in the current postseason format that began in 1984.

There has been one No. 8, when the Knicks got there in 1999. These Heat continue to show how much they want to be the second, chasing down seven offensive rebounds in the fourth quarter to outwork New York and hold on for a 109-101 victory Monday.

“I guess maybe they want it more, I don't know,” Knicks forward Julius Randle said. “That's been who we are all year and we've got to find a way to step up and make those plays if we want to keep this season alive.”


Miami leads 3-1. Game 4, 7:30 p.m. EDT, Wednesday, TNT

— NEED TO KNOW: After averaging 124 points in their upset of top-seeded Milwaukee, tops in the first round, the Heat have won the other way in this series. They have limited the Knicks to 99.8 points per game and will try to improve to 15-0 in series in which they held a 3-1 lead. New York never has come back from a 3-1 deficit.

— KEEP AN EYE ON: Jimmy Butler. He scored 42 points in Game 5 of the last round to end a series on the road and it wouldn't be any surprise if he did something similar to finish this one. He had 27 points and 10 assists Monday and has scored at least 25 in 10 straight postseason games dating to last season.

— INJURY WATCH: Knicks backup guard Immanuel Quickley watched Game 4 from the bench in a walking boot because of a sprained ankle, forcing Jalen Brunson — battling his own ankle soreness — to play 44 minutes.

— PRESSURE IS ON: Brunson, Randle and RJ Barrett. Miami's Bam Adebayo has thoroughly outplayed New York's centers, and the Heat are winning the battle of the benches. So it's hard to see any way the series gets back to Miami unless the Knicks' top three players all have big games.


Los Angeles leads 3-1. Game 4, 10 p.m. EDT, Wednesday, TNT

— NEED TO KNOW: The Warriors have won 19 straight playoff series against Western Conference teams and overcame a 3-1 deficit once to do it, when they knocked off Oklahoma City in the 2016 Western Conference finals. James' teams have never lost a 3-1 lead.

— KEEP AN EYE ON: Golden State's starting lineup. The Warriors already have used five different ones in 11 postseason games, and Steve Kerr has to figure out which one he can put together that can score enough to take the pressure off Stephen Curry while still being able to defend and rebound with James and Davis in the front court.

— INJURY WATCH: Both teams' rotation players are healthy.

— PRESSURE IS ON: Klay Thompson and Jordan Poole. Thompson has a reputation for big performances in Game 6s, but the Warriors won't even get to one if he doesn't play better than his 3-for-11 effort Monday, featuring a couple late ill-advised 3-point attempts. It's hard to tell if the struggling Poole will even get much of a chance, after being limited to 10 scoreless minutes in Game 4.


AP Basketball Writer Tim Reynolds in Miami and AP Sports Writer Janie McCauley in San Francisco contributed to this report.


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Brian Mahoney, The Associated Press

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